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US Open: Teen idols Raducanu and Fernandez fight for Grand Slam glory
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Matthew Storey
Emma Raducanu celebrates after booking her spot in the US Open final
Emma Raducanu celebrates after booking her spot in the US Open final

Britain’s Emma Raducanu and Canadian Leylah Fernandez will compete for the US Open trophy on Saturday to cap off a remarkable two weeks in New York.

The two teenagers have defied the odds to make it this far — upsetting far more experienced and heralded players on their way.

Now Raducanu, 18, and Fernandez, 19, will take to the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium knowing immortality is potentially two sets away.

Familiar foes

This is the first all-teen US Open final since 1999 when Serena Williams beat Martina Hingis but it is not the first time these two have met.

Raducanu has revealed they bonded over their Canadian roots — the Brit was born in Toronto — when they faced each other at junior tournaments.

Their most recent match was in 2018 at junior Wimbledon, while Raducanu remembers a meeting even further back.

She said: "We go back a long way. I remember speaking to her in the Under-12 Orange Bowl. 

“We played each other at junior Wimbledon. We've both come so far since we last played each other. I'm excited to see what sort of match-up it will be."

Getting to know Fernandez

Canadian Leylah Fernandez returns the ball in her impressive US Open semi-final victory
Canadian Leylah Fernandez returns the ball in her impressive US Open semi-final victory

While Raducanu’s progress has been widely documented at home, less is known about fellow youngster Fernandez.

Having only turned 19 on Monday, it is just as big of an achievement for the Canadian to be in the final as it is for the Brit, though it is her seventh Grand Slam appearance.

And it is fair to say the path to the final has not been as serene as Raducanu, who is yet to drop a single set at Flushing Meadows.

But that is partly down to the level of opponents she has faced. Prior to beating No2 seed Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 (7-3) 4-6 6-4 in the semi-finals, she had already ended the hopes of defending champion Naomi Osaka and fifth seed Elina Svitolina.

Seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander has been mightily impressed by Fernandez's temperament on court.

He said: "Mentally Leylah is like a rock, incredible. She has a temperant similar to Rafa Nadal that leaves you asking how do you do that? That’s who they are."

Raducanu steps up again

Not that Raducanu’s incredible achievement should be overlooked.

Her 6-1 6-4 demolition of Maria Sakkari saw her become the first qualifier to ever reach a final.

The 18-year-old was quickly into her rhythm under the lights and raced into a 4-0 lead as Sakkari failed to cope with her perfect serves and big returns.

Tim Henman said: "It's an absolutely staggering performance. If we just look at the way she came out and played, her quality of tennis from start to finish, she was so resilient. She never flinched.

"She never let up. It was relentless. And then you've got to throw in the scenario of being a qualifier, an 18-year-old, with all the legends who have ever played this game at Grand Slam level. 

"She is the first person to qualify and reach the final. It's simply stunning."

Youthful exuberance

Emma Raducanu is yet to drop a set in her US Open campaign
Emma Raducanu is yet to drop a set in her US Open campaign

While Sabalenka and Sakkari were both scarred from previous failures in the final four of Grand Slams, the teenagers were buoyed by the freedom of youth.

After her win, Fernandez said: "I'm just having fun, I'm trying to produce something for the crowd to enjoy. 

"I'm glad that whatever I'm doing on court, the fans are loving it and I'm loving it, too. We'll say it's magical."

And Raducanu, the first British women in 44 years to reach a Grand Slam final, knows that youth may have helped on her run to the final.

She said: "I think honestly being young, there is an element of you do play completely free.

"But I'm sure that when I'm older or have more experience the same will happen to me. I think the tables will turn. Some younger players will come through.

"I don't feel any pressure to win. Any pressure is self-inflicted. I have expectations of my level and how I want to perform but there's no pressure in terms of results."

Expect an open game

While there may be some nerves early on, the similar styles of Raducanu and Fernandez should make for an exciting clash.

Eurosport pundit Wilander said: "This final is going to be more of an open match where both Emma and Leylah are going to try and be aggressive, close to the baseline, without having a killer shot off of a dead ball. 

"The difference between them and Sakkari and Sabalenka is that they can hit winners off of a dead ball. 

"Raducanu and Fernandez play very similar in a way, if Fernandez was right-handed you wouldn’t see much difference in their styles, they are pretty close in how they play."

No matter what the result is on Saturday night, it would be a surprise if this is the only time the young stars contest a final on the big stage.

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